Book Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess


I was wary of reading Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novella A Clockwork Orange. Who isn’t aware of its unbridled sexual and physical violence, but come on, it’s a classic! But, like many classics I’ve read over the years, I’m glad to have read it and to forget it.

I find the most enjoyable novels, for me at least, are those that are effortless to read. You don’t have to try to analyse what’s going on; it just falls in your lap through the author’s sheer skill. There may be themes and a “moral to the story”, but they don’t present themselves obviously and analytically; the pieces of the puzzle you weren’t even aware were there just fit together like a jigsaw.

A Clockwork Orange was not one of these novel(las).

Now, I’m not arguing that it doesn’t serve a purpose in pop culture as a manifesto of youth culture, violence, government and free will, just that it’s bloody hard to read!

I’m not a fan of the “new speech that is the teenage slang of the not-too-distant future” Burgess uses, a fictional language called Nadsat combined with Russian, that encompasses such phrases as “horrorshow” (good), “malenky” (little), “malchicks” (boy), “viddy” (see), “plenny” (prisoner), “tolchok” (beat) and “veshch” (thing). I find they distract from the story because you have to annoyingly search your brain (or, at least, the dictionary some copies come with to help decipher the prose) to understand what the hell narrator Alex is talking about!

I also watched the movie, which I had great expectations for, however, when I told some friends and family I was going to be reviewing the movie, I was met with words of warning. The guy at the library said it was disturbing, and my mother told me to watch it in the day. And so I did.

The time of day I watched it didn’t make much of a difference to the eerie subject matter and graphic scenes and the way I felt afterwards. Much like with the book, I felt deflated and uncomfortable at the end.

The final scene, though, was my favouriteno, not just because it was finally over after 120-plus minutes! Malcolm McDowell who plays Alex really showcases his range as an actor throughout the film, but specifically in this scene. His sinister reaction at being in hospital in a full body cast after jumping from a window at the sound of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a recurring theme in the tale, is priceless. Ultimately, the film ends with Alex being informed he has recovered from the experiment, and he sarcastically looks into the camera, saying “I was cured, alright”, followed by a rousing performance of the repeated “Singin’ in the Rain”

The overt and excessive use of nudity was a bit much and would be out of place in a B-, C-, or even D-list movie, let alone one of A Clockwork Orange’s canonical calibre.

I will compliment Stanley Kubric on directing with such simplicity, which I think is what really tipped the film over the edge into the realm hard-hitting filmmaking.

I would recommend seeing the film and reading the book for those of you who haven’t already, just to recognise what all the fuss wasand isabout.

Personally, I don’t.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

  1. Pingback: Book Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest By Ken Kesey. « The Early Bird Catches the Worm

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